Regardless of religious preference or belief systems, something we can all agree on, is that life gets a little chaotic sometimes. The majority of us are operating our day-to-day life on autopilot. We rarely, if ever, actually take the time to be still and at peace with ourselves and with the mind. Ron Craig, a Buddhist volunteer who runs an inmate group at the New Castle Correctional Facility in Indiana, knows how easy it is to get stressed out in today’s fast-paced society. He recently stopped by Ross Medical in Kokomo and gave the students a presentation on mindfulness. He talked about meditation and demonstrated some techniques to use when trying to overcome stressful situations and anxious thoughts. He also encouraged students to be kind in every situation.
Some of the first things you would notice when having a simple conversation with Ron is that he is incredibly kind, open-minded, and has a genuine interest and passion in teaching others about mindfulness. He is also super adamant about practicing the things that he teaches and advocates for himself.
Ron’s exposure to Buddhism started about 30 years ago when he went to a meditation retreat and the philosophy just clicked with him. He became Buddhist and he has been meditating ever since. Fast forward to 2016, Ron was attending a Buddhist meditation group in Indianapolis every Sunday. One day, an inmate from the New Castle Correctional Facility wrote to the group and asked if anybody would be interested in meeting with the Buddhist there. Unsure of what to expect, Ron took up the challenge and volunteered to go. He has been there ever since. He developed a secular mindfulness course and now runs an inmate Buddhist group.
When asking Ron why he was attracted to Buddhism, he stated, “I really like the fact that Buddhism is not based on a belief. It teaches you how to think for yourself and to not believe in something simply because it’s spoken by many. I also taught physics for nearly 40 years, so I’m very science-oriented. It was all very appealing to me, but also, learning how to calm the mind was just phenomenal. Once you see how the mind functions, your perception of life changes as well. We are functioning on autopilot all the time and until we can step back and look and see what our mind is doing, we’re gonna keep getting ourselves into situations that cause us a lot of suffering.”
Ron’s work is significant to him because he has seen many lives transform. “Not too long ago, one inmate from the group came up to me and told me about the experience he had the previous night. Another inmate came up and hit him in the face. Normally, the inmate would react in the same manner and hit him back, but this time, he did nothing. When the guy hit him, he felt compassion for him. He told me he knew the other guy was very fearful and he knew that he had hit him out of fear,” stated Ron.
In Buddhism there are four brahma-viharas, or virtues. There’s love and kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. “I teach the inmates meditations based on the brahma-viharas. When a person does a compassion meditation regularly, it turns out that passion just spontaneously arises in a person because you’ve conditioned the mind to have compassion for people. I find those meditations extremely helpful. As we’re raised, we’re not taught that we are wonderful, loving people; we are taught that we make mistakes and we are punished when we do something that somebody doesn’t want us to do. So that results in the majority of people having low self-esteem as well,” stated Ron.
One of the things that Ron teaches when dealing with anxiety or a stressful situation is the STOP method: stop, take a breath, observe what is going on outside and in your mind, and perceive. Ron stated, “Just take the time to stop, take a deep breath, and then decide how you’re gonna respond to the situation. That pause can make all the difference in the world. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do, but if we can just pause rather than react the way we have habitually reacted to a situation, we can make better decisions.”
Ron believes mindfulness and meditation are really important because they can help us better understand how this mind-body process works. He said, “There’s so much pain and suffering in the world that could be eliminated if people were not so fearful. There are only two emotions: love and fear. Fear comes in many different forms though. And every moment of the day, we need to choose love over fear. In Buddhism, the reason we suffer (the second noble truth) is because of craving things we don’t have, aversion, things we have that we don’t want, attachment, and delusion.”
The students at Ross Medical in Kokomo really enjoyed Ron’s presentation. After the presentation, a lot of them went up to talk to him and ask more questions. Student Tyasia Thompson stated, “I enjoyed seeing Ron Craig’s presentation because it gave me different techniques to calm the mind. As someone that struggles with ADHD, this has been world-changing. This weekend, I used the mantras that he taught during a stressful driving situation. It helped a lot and I was able to calm down enough to focus on what I was doing.”
Ron’s teachings remind us all that mindfulness is a work in progress. He provided the students with a lot of valuable information and tools to use to combat the stressors of everyday life. If there is one thing that he hopes people will take away from his presentation though, it is that the simple act of kindness can go a long way. He stated, “We never know how our actions or words could affect somebody. If I can just treat them with kindness, it will make all the difference in the world.”